By Maria Svart
Individually signed posts do not necessarily reflect the views of DSA as an organization or its leadership. For DSA’s National Political Committee’s talking points on electoral activity between now and November, see here. Democratic Left blog post submission guidelines can be found here.
What does it mean that Donald Trump—a man who has built his career on stiffing small businesses and his own workers, on exploiting racialized fears and pro-corporate loopholes in financial regulations—is sounding a faux populist message that combines the usual right-wing talking points about “parasitic” people of color with attacks on free trade and the declining standard of living of most of us?
It means that he sees our pain, he sees our frustration with a political system rigged by the billionaire class, and he sees an opportunity. Yes, it is rigged, but Trump’s policies would make it worse.
The neoliberal capitalist class, including many Democratic politicians, pushes for free trade agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement and potentially the Trans Pacific Partnership, for example. Trump’s support comes from speaking to this reality, as well as to the racialized fears and hatred that are ingrained in the fabric of U.S. culture and reinforced by institutions.
The ability to fight against these fears is one reason why labor unions matter. Unions are the only large institutions in this country that are led by and for working people and that demand a voice in workplaces, politics, and the economy. Thus, unions can play a unique and critical role in building an antiracist, anticapitalist class consciousness. That’s why we devote the annual Labor Day issue of Democratic Left to exploring issues facing organized workers today, and why we look forward to supporting and seeing where Labor for Bernie goes next.
But we must also discuss our role as open socialists, even outside of labor. We think systemically. We look at the world as it is, we compare it to the world we wish to create, and we develop a strategy that accounts for the true balance of power and the real barriers in our way.
Right now, we have a weak, but growing left. Some 13 million people voted for Bernie Sanders in the presidential primaries. There is a hunger for an alternative to capitalism, and he moved us several steps forward in the war of position, to use a term from theorist Antonio Gramsci.
Our job is to continue building our power.
We can not do so by fighting among ourselves. Not one of us has all the answers, and we need each other for the battles ahead. In fact, listening to each others’ stories of how we came to our different points of view can make us better organizers as well as build a stronger movement. Debate about strategy and tactics must be done in a comradely way.
We don’t need to be in unquestioned unity behind Hillary Clinton. We do need to be in unity behind the short-term goal of strengthening the left by defeating the far right and in distinguishing between neoliberalism and neofascism. We need to be in unity about building a grassroots army of democratic socialist organizers. We need to be in unity about winning real power, independent power, through concrete local fights. We need to be in unity about making racial justice central to our fight for economic justice and part of all the work we do, whether electoral, issue, or direct action, in the coming months and years.
People become empowered through struggle and victory, and the wounds and distrust that divide us are healed through solidarity. None of this is easy. It’s complicated. We all have lessons to learn. Our future depends on our learning those lessons together.
And we have a duty to win.
This article originally appeared in the Labor Day 2016 issue of the Democratic Left magazine.